“Crackdowns” were phenomenally common in the post 89 chapter in Kashmir. Free word associations I can draw at the very mention of this term today are: abuse, cruelty, crippling, benumbing, crack of dawn, footfalls, hunger, cold, thirst, fear, missing, insensitive, ransacking, disregardful, brutal, gun butts and what not.
Not even a single positive word springs up. There was nothing good about crackdowns and all I remember and recollect is that they were meant to suppress the people of Kashmir, annihilate their dignity.
In the dead of the night in our locality which is very near to Lal Chowk, heavy footfalls would wake us up. The footfalls would be the first to announce a cordon followed by abusive language and dictatorial orders. Then shrieks and sobs would be heard. A certain kind of fear would descend as people would be dragged out of their beds and “streamlined” like a “school of fish”. As is a custom in our homes, we always take off our shoes before entering a house or a room, but with the troopers it was “barge in and beat the hell out of them”. Fear was very pointedly instilled as far as I can remember. It was a violation of principles. My understanding of this “procedure of extraction of anti-social elements” – as the authorities would like it put – was more of a “point-blank psychological operation” meant to terrorize people and envelope them in the dread of the “Other”.
More than often one could hear the pleading of some old man trying to convince the paratroopers of his innocence and frail health and again one could hear abusive language followed by shrieks and cries. No one would be spared. We would walk like zombies to the nearest clearing in the area and assemble there like frightened sheep, as if about to be slaughtered.
Women would be spared and since the affair could last a good (read bad) twelve to fourteen hours, some of the more courageous would congregate to prepare some food for the men and children taken “hostage”. Some would be worried dead while the remaining would wear themselves out crying over the “state of affairs”.
Then the “parade” would start as men and children were made to walk a certain distance which focused on passing by some vehicles (mostly gypsies) housing the cats (informers) to identify militants and their accessories. A “catch” would be announced by a honk which would jelly the knees of all of those standing in the proximity of the vehicle till the exact pick was dragged out. I swear, the honking of the horn would cut through your heart and soul like a spear passing through. The “identified” would be hauled into a vehicle and you could hear screams laden with agony as the “apprehended” was subjected to utter physical abuse.
During winters it was the toughest, as the “crackdowns” would commence before the break of dawn and all would be caught unawares so that all one could do was to walk out with whatever one could afford to put on and brace for the nauseating cold. Then we had to practically squat on our knees while our teeth would clutter into a monotone.
It was all bad and I fail to understand how we could bear it all. But then we had no choices left. It was either the gun butt or submission under suppression.
I recall one chilly morning when a “crackdown” was announced by the frightful footfalls of the troopers and we were “casually” hounded to the “meadows of military might”. It was bitterly cold and all we could afford to do was sit close to each other and forget that it was cold. As the parade started a particular young man was “identified” and hauled into a vehicle, his face veiled from the public gaze with his own traditional cloak (pheren) overlapping his head and face. A commotion rose among the heckled people.
Someone from behind shouted abuses against the troopers and at his behest around 50 to 60 odd people were caned bitterly. Anger rose to unprecedented heights as shrieks and sobs emanated from the vehicle into which the “identified” youth was hauled. We all got up in one go and shouted some “pro-freedom” slogans and the troopers came charging, beating us with gun butts. Some shots were also fired in the air. We calmed down a bit and then again rose up and charged slowly towards the troopers while shouting slogans. The troopers again beat the “front runners” to the pulp and eventually all of us retreated. I remember I had slipped a shoe and it was lying some 20 meters ahead. I ran to collect it as and a trooper ran broke into a run and hit me with his gun, but I had managed to collect my shoe.
Women were standing across the cordoned area watching over their beloved sons, husbands and brothers. One woman came hurtling past all of them out of nowhere and started cursing the troopers. She was all fire and immediately the word spread that she was the woeful mother of the youth who had been “apprehended”. She broke the “undeclared barriers” and approached the troopers, wailing all the time and beating her chest.
She caught hold of the neckline of her shirt and tore right across. She was cursing and beating her chest as some troopers ran towards her and started beating her up. This was it, the “moment of truth” and all of us got up and shot towards the “trooper field”. The troopers who were very near to us broke into a run retreating as some orders were shouted and shots were fired. We practically broke the cordon and started running in different directions. I was running on the main street alongwith scores of other people shouting slogans as an armed vehicle with a mounted gunshot in our direction and started pumping lead. I was not sure that I was not hit till I managed to slip into a narrow alley and jump a wall or two till I landed home. I checked myself for injures, but apart from some bruises all was intact.
We did it because we had had it.
No Kashmiri can forget the brutality of it and when you talk about the whole set of “procedures” that were used to nullify Kashmiri people, I can warrant you that it carves the shape of things to come.